for your health
By Lisa Evans
IT’S THE PHONE call every parent of
school-age children dreads—that mid-after-noon notice their child is sick. While working moms and dads may agonize over the
decision to send a sick child to school,
determining whether a child is too
sick to attend school isn’t as complicated as you may think.
Here’s a look at how to handle various ailments.
Cold. While a runny nose may
not interfere with a child’s learning
abilities, Calgary pediatrician Dr.
Peter Nieman says sending your child to
school with a cold depends on his or her age.
“The very young kids who probably aren’t
going to wash their hands, they’re probably
not going to sneeze into their arm—they’re
probably going to be quite contagious. A
teenager who has a cold and is washing [his]
hands and sneezing into [his] sleeve should
be allowed to go to school [as long as he’s still
able to focus and participate in school-day
activities],” says Nieman.
Costco member Dr. Fatima Kamalia of
Thornhill Paediatrics, in Thornhill, Ontario,
says different colds have different impacts,
but if the child is feeling pretty well and
doesn’t have a lot of coughing (a cough can
make a cold feel worse and affects the other
students in the class), there’s no reason she
can’t go to school.
Contagious diseases. Chicken pox,
pink eye and strep throat are easily spread
to other children. How long your child will
have to stay home varies depending on the
condition. Kamalia recommends all chil-
dren receive the chicken pox vaccine (at 12
to 15 months and again between 4 to 6
years) to avoid the dreaded pox.
Children who get chicken pox are
advised to stay home for five to
seven days, until the lesions are
For pink eye and strep throat,
kids can typically return to school
within 24 hours of initiating antibiot-
ics, although Kamalia says young children
who get pink eye and are rubbing their eyes
and touching toys should stay away from
school or daycare for 48 hours to avoid cross-
contamination. “The 24-hour time frame is
generally recommended once antibiotics are
initiated to decrease infectiousness, but we
know that’s not 100 per cent,” she says.
Diarrhea and vomiting. These
two symptoms automatically rule out
school. “If a child is vomiting or has
diarrhea, you want the symptoms
to be resolved before you send
them back,” says Kamalia. The best
remedy for diarrhea is to continu-
ally hydrate, making sure to replenish
lost electrolytes, something easiest done
If your child vomited at night but seems
to have kept his breakfast down, he should
be fine to go back to school as it’s unlikely
he will vomit again.
Fever. A fever of 40 C (104 F) or higher,
with symptoms such as a cough, diarrhea or a
sore throat, is grounds to keep a child at home,
according to Nieman. But a low-grade fever of
38 or 39 C (100 or 101 F), without any other
symptoms, isn’t enough to keep a child at
home. “Give them [acetaminophen] and send
them on their way,” says Nieman.
Are they faking it?
The best way to spot a faker is a lack of
details. Headaches and tummy aches are the
most common complaints, but they’re often
accompanied by a lack of symptoms such as
vomiting, diarrhea or fever. “When you see
these symptoms, then you know it’s not
related to school—there’s something else
going on,” says Kamalia. Another way to
spot a faker is if symptoms disappear as the
day goes on.
If you suspect your child is faking sickness, Kamalia says, the
best way to address the issue is to
have an honest talk with her.
Tell her that it’s common for
children to get a tummy ache or
head pain when they don’t want
to go to school and ask if that’s
what happens to her. “Make it nonthreatening and they’re likely to tell you
the truth,” says Kamalia. C
Lisa Evans is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
When to keep your child home
The Costco Connection
Costco warehouses carry a variety of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Costco pharmacists are also available to answer questions
you might have about medications or symptoms.